As one of the most well-known voices on country music radio today, Kelly Ford has been entertaining listeners for years with her humor and wit.
With stints in her hometown of Louisville, then in Denver and New York City, she planted roots almost a year ago in Nashville, aka Music City, USA, where she's been waking up fans alongside her male co-hosts Ty Bentli and country music artist Chuck Wicks with their nationally syndicated morning show, Ty, Kelly and Chuck on Nash 94.7 FM.
Despite the fact the country music industry has been portrayed as mostly male-dominated, that hasn't stopped Ford from moving forward and continuing the conversation. She's interviewed some of the biggest names in the business and was part of the team that brought the genre back to New York City which had been missing a country radio station for so long.
“What's awesome about New York listeners is they are choosing to listen to country and in many cases defending it while doing so with the passion of a New Yorker," says Ford. “Even a country artist will tell you that there is nothing like the fans there, they are off the hook."
Photo Courtesy of Ashley Hylbert
And while this Southern girl might still be able to walk into a few places unrecognized, once she starts talking her distinctive voice is a clear giveaway to listen up. She's not only living out her dream, she's paving the way for other young women to follow.
SWAAY sat down with the high-profile Ford to talk all things country, including the emergence of women in the industry, how social media has changed the game, along with some favorite spots in her colorful city.
As a woman in this business do you think it's harder to make a name for yourself as a radio DJ?
I have never been one to dwell on it, I've just forged ahead. Clearly, the playing field is not equal and has largely been a male-dominated industry for a while but I believe that's slowly changing. I think in a genre like this, it's reflecting society, and the roles of men and women are changing. My husband and I both have big jobs but he never thought his dream was more important than mine; we just figured things out as we went along.
Forbes magazine published an article in regards to the gender gap; when looking at the genre are there more female powerhouses taking over country in 2017?
It's a continuous battle but I do believe it's changing. Like everything else you have to get out there and the advice I give all young woman, including my daughter, is to get out there and prove yourself. If you dwell on it, not much is going to change.Miranda [Lambert] was in the studio recently and is probably the most recent person to bring up the ongoing efforts to make it more equitable [for women] and not fall into the notion that women want to hear a man, not a woman. She said on air, “You bet it's sexist" but the more people who step up and say that's not the way they want it the more it will change.
Miranda Lambert with Kelly Ford
Do you foresee a change in the near future?
I am extremely hopeful for this generation coming up; I see it in my daughter and my sons who are in college. There is a self-confidence and a self-awareness that I don't think I had when I was their age. Maybe my efforts are paying off even though I didn't know I was carrying the banner. I am a big believer that you can't dwell on what's wrong but focus on what's right; it's hard to deny success.
I want to help further young women any way I can. I grew up with sisters, went to an all-girls Catholic school and appreciate all that women have done in my life. Without those role models, I wouldn't have been able to become the person who just went for it. I never thought I couldn't do something because I was a woman.
This past summer you won a Gracie Award for Best Co-Host. What did winning that award mean to you?I am so grateful to have been able to reinvent myself after being in one market for so long; it goes to show you can do anything you want. For me, that win was everything and to be with a [male] team that I adore and encourages collaboration and isn't afraid to let me shine is a great demonstration of teamwork. And to be recognized separately for that part means everything. There is nothing more fulfilling than to have a group of women say hey, we are with you and we support you. It's a big part of what motivates me.
This wasn't your first award; what's it like to be recognized for the job you love doing?
It's a great feeling and I'm proud of it but more so as a woman, I hope it inspires others. But you have to keep it in check because if you believe all the good press you'll have to believe all the bad. I keep it in check but it's super-cool.
You've said social media has changed your life as a radio personality; in what way has that been true?
Social media adds a layer to you as a person and I think you can get a good sense of someone based on what they choose to post as well as what they chose not to. It's a connection that I can't necessarily add on the air because of time restraints. I am a freakish extrovert so for me to be able to connect is awesome. I didn't love the old school way where people just listen to the announcer; my favorite thing is interacting with others.
Do you feel social media is a game changer when it comes to advancing your career?
Yes most definitely. You're building your brand and the more I increase my brand and the trust with the people who listen to me, hopefully, I'll be creating a long time connection.
Nashville is ranked one of the top destinations to travel right now. What are you enjoying most about the city?
It's accessible yet not overwhelming. Broadway is only a few blocks long and you can find all you need in one place. There's live music in every bar and you never know who might show up. Here, everyone is a songwriter and it's a place that appeals to everyone who has a dream. And it's not just country music, it's become music city with a cool vibe. It's just enough cosmopolitan to make it sophisticated but enough homegrown to make you feel like you're visiting family and friends.
When looking to unwind where do you go?The woods here are spectacular and there are some great places to go hiking such as Lake Radnor and Percy Warner Park. I love rooftop bars; there's one that recently opened at the Thompson Hotel. When I'm missing New York it makes me feel cosmopolitan and chic. I love going to Cochon Butcher in Germantown [one of the city's historic neighborhoods.] And I love a good flea market. Once a month there is an amazing one at the Nashville fairgrounds where you can not only discover great finds but meet the most wonderful people with such great stories.
Finish this sentence, I am passionate about…
Anything that moves the needle!
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.